|St. Cecilia Academy freshman Rose Tarwater, left, and senior Kirsten Fox, center, apply fluoride and sealant to a Haitian student. The two were part of a group of St. Cecilia students who traveled to Haiti recently has part of a medical mission. The Be Happy Haiti organization, started by three St. Cecilia students last year, is continuing as a student organization at St. Cecilia. The group works to provide dental care and treatment to the needy of Haiti. A Haitian girl, far right, was trained to apply the fluoride and sealant so she can continue working with the group into the future.
One day, the three St. Cecilia Academy alumni watched in shock as Dr. Hall pulled a dozen rotten teeth from a teenaged girl’s mouth. Later that evening, the girls were discussing long-term ways to help the people of LaVallee gain access to dental care and hygiene.
“The girls were amazed that someone their age had never seen a dentist before, and they wanted to change that for the people in Haiti,” Dr. Hall explained.
The organization Be Happy Haiti was born that night by kids to serve kids. It still lives on through the efforts of current SCA students, who made a spring break trip to LaVallee in March, and through Dr. Hall, who has stayed on as a consultant.
“I keep in touch with our (Haitian) dentists, and talk to them about any issues that may come up in the course of their work. I keep them supplied with the equipment they need. I also am in charge of overseeing the sealant program, which helps prevent cavities,” Dr. Hall said. “For the most part, the work I do involves problem-solving.”
This past school year, Be Happy Haiti has become an official student organization at St. Cecilia. “Brooke, Blair and Emma are all friends of mine, and their enthusiasm made me want to get involved,” said Frances Fitzgerald, current president of Be Happy Haiti’s chapter at SCA. “It’s been a sort of trial run as a student organization these past several months, but everything has gone well so far.”
|Rosie McGrady, left, and Allison Hassett in background, treat patients.
The organization provides the people in LaVallee with sealant and fluoride treatments, cleanings, education on dental hygiene, and treatments for cavities and abscesses when necessary. They operate primarily through schools in the region.
“The principals at the schools we serve give us lists of the names of children in need, and we care for those children for free. We also see adults for a minimal cost,” Dr. Hall said.
During their last trip, Fitzgerald and seven other SCA students, along with Dr. Hall and the Haitian dentist, did dental screenings and treatment of 1,746 Haitian children. It was Fitzgerald’s first trip to the region.
“Actually getting to visit Haiti for the first time has been the most rewarding part of this experience so far,” she said. “I’ve spent months raising money and awareness about the people we serve, but I loved to go and see our clients and their situation first hand. They were all so grateful we were there.”
For now, Be Happy Haiti depends largely upon volunteer work and donated dental supplies to do its work. But it is in the process of recruiting additional Haitian dentists and raising enough money to remain self-sustainable.
“We’re still doing a lot of fundraising and raising awareness, asking for donations from people we know. We also do a lot of fundraisers through SCA,” Fitzgerald said. “One project we’re working on right now is raising enough money to buy a portable dentist chair. Our dentists treat children at 22 schools in LaVallee, and having the chair would make it easier for them to visit the schools directly instead of having the children travel a long way to see them.”
Be Happy Haiti is also applying for a grant from the organization World of Children, which awards financial aid prizes to charities and projects that meet the needs of underserved children around the world. Only non-religious groups are allowed to apply. Even though Be Happy Haiti is run primarily by Catholics, its work is not faith-based, as its entire focus is on dental health and hygiene for any and all children.
|SCA students Julianna Dyer, left, Allison Hassett, Addie Perkerson, and Rosie McGrady, are pictured with students after the students’ treatment.
“The grant we’re applying for is worth more than $50,000. Every penny we make goes directly towards providing our patients with dental care and training Haitian dentists and students, so that money would go a very long way for us,” Fitzgerald said.
Dr. Hall is thrilled with Be Happy Haiti’s success so far and is heartened to see her daughter’s strong interest in helping others. “It’s been amazing to see how one discussion that happened around a dinner table has become an actual organization that’s doing so much good for people in need. And as a mom, it’s been fabulous to see my daughter Emma become so dedicated and passionate about this cause.”
To learn more about Be Happy Haiti or to donate, visit behappyhaiti.org.